After being totally inspired by hearing Aaron Goldman play and teach this weekend at the Florida Flute Convention, I feel compelled to share an idea he expressed that really stuck with me: the concept of finite vs. infinite.
He credited the National Symphony's Artist Director, Christoph Eschenbach, with this quote (my version here): working on technique (technical aspects of our playing), is finite; working on phrasing (artistic aspects of our playing), is infinite.
Think about it. It is very easy to become discouraged when practicing - there is SO much to do, so many things to fix, so many notes to learn, so many skills to develop... Yes, that's all true, but developing skills to command the instrument is fairly quantifiable. That means there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Granted, we can always improve, stretch even more, develop new skills, grow. However, there is a certain limit to how we can execute certain concrete aspects of our playing, the things that just don't really change. These are the basic tools we develop and work to maintain so that we can create art and adeptly wield a musical paintbrush. This is the infinite, limitless part: how many different ways can each of us execute a particular phrase? How many clouds are in the sky, grains of sand at the beach?! How many shades of a middle register g can we play (infinite), vs. how many fingerings for that note can we create or look up (finite)?
Where does technique stop and artistic expression begin? When I feel in command of technical aspects of my playing (vs. eliminating other demands/easing the load), I truly enjoy blending the two, if not primarily trusting the technical parts of my playing to serve the music. That's more "performance state," which I feel I must also practice reaching as well. I try to really embrace this advice of my former and pivotal teacher, Robert Willoughby: "Often the most musical solution addresses the greatest technical demands."
Perhaps the concept of infinite expression possibilities, too, can be overwhelming. The good news - or the take away, I believe, is that we can conquer the technical aspects and demands. We truly can - if we work enough (smart enough, hard enough, and with patience, great care, and trust). Conquering technical demands can therefore almost be a given. Will this be fun? Maybe not always, and especially depending on our perspective! For me, knowing that the technical challenges are finite really helps. The flip side of the coin = infinite possibilities of expression - can also be overwhelming. Just try one option at a time. Like defined technical progress, though, this requires work - that precious investment. It's WHY we develop the technical expertise, though, and where the magic happens. This is the key to the beauty of human expression, of sharing each unique moment in live art. Be brave, be bold, and test those clouds, or create new ones. Limitless possibilities await.